Why Rachel Fagut Hates BuzzFeed

Have you ever heard of “The Best Page in the Universe?” If your answer is no, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Until yesterday, I didn’t know that this page existed. What drew me to the page was a video that I stumbled across titled, “I hate BuzzFeed.” At first, this title disturbed me. I love BuzzFeed, so how could anyone hate such a comical website? But I was intrigued, so I went to the website and watched the video, which is posted below:

After watching the video I was both shocked and awed. I could not understand how a site that I frequented almost as much as Facebook was breaking so many laws. I didn’t want to think that anything Maddox, the owner of the site, claimed was true, because let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to believe an article that explained why Wegmans was the best grocery store in the world (it is). But I saw some validity to his statements, especially after our “Social Media and Law” talk by Kabrina Chang.

So, reluctantly, I looked further in to Maddox’s claims.

Fair Use

The underlying point of Maddox’s entire argument against BuzzFeed is this idea of “Fair Use.” According to the United States Copyright Office, there are certain provisions that allow for the reproduction of a copyright without the copyright infringer having to pay a fee to the owner.  In determining whether a copyright is being used with fair use, the courts must consider the following factors:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Maddox, Fair Use, and BuzzFeed

In the video above, Maddox states that BuzzFeed is operating under the assumption that what they are doing falls in to these criteria. Maddox lists the following conditions as examples of a copyright being used under fair use:

  1. Excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment.
  2. Quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification.
  3. Use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied.
  4. Summary of an address or article, with brief quotation, in a news report.

Maddox stresses that in order for a copyright to be used under fair use, it’s use must be an authentic form of expression and have an editorial point of view, which he asserts BuzzFeed isn’t doing. He gives the example of how authors write articles without claiming them, or citing any expertise they may have on the subject.  Instead of saying “25 Reasons why Rachel Fagut thinks that Wegmans is the Best Grocery Store Ever,” authors list the articles as “25 Reasons why Wegmans is the Best Grocery Store Ever.” Due to this, any many other reasons, Maddox concludes that the articles and sources on BuzzFeed cannot be claimed as Fair Use.

What Maddox Got Wrong

After doing some digging, I discovered a site that disproved one of the statements that Maddox makes about BuzzFeed. The Atlantic Wire found that the statement below was false:

These articles are designed to mine clicks from a specific demographic so BuzzFeed can use these metrics to sell sponsored content to regional advertisers. Nobody at BuzzFeed gives a shit about you, Michigan State University, or the problems Hawaiians are suffering from. You’re a pawn. They’re using you for clicks to sell you to the highest bidder.

They discovered that BuzzFeed does not run advertisements on their site, and the sponsors that they do have are normally major brands, not regional ones. So, just because an article is called “25 ways that you can tell your are a Boston College Student,” doesn’t necessarily mean that Boston College is sponsoring the content you are reading.

What this Means for Managers

  1. In my opinion, if you have the capital to hire fact-checkers and content creators, you probably should, because if you don’t, the public will do it for you.
  2. Sources, sources, sources. If sources aren’t cited, than the public may become skeptical of the content that you are posting.
  3. Claim your own content. There is absolutely no reason for an author to not claim their own content. By not claiming it, you become vulnerable to scrutiny.

In summary, don’t give the public a reason to be distrustful of the content that you are creating.

Questions for the Readers

  1. Has your opinion of BuzzFeed changed at all since reading this/watching Maddox’s video? Will you continue to read it?
  2. What do you think that BuzzFeed can do to protect themselves from a possible copyright infringement suit?

I plan to continue reading the articles, as I like to be “persuaded of things that I already know.”

Sources:

http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl102.html

http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=buzzfeed

http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2013/10/brutal-takedown-buzzfeed-lists-gets-one-point-wrong/70809/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/

6 comments

  1. Well like you Rachel I go to buzzfeed everyday (It is probably a bigger time suck for me than FB) and while Maddox makes some fair points, I am still going to go to buzzfeed every day. Does it bother me that they don’t correctly cite their sources? No. Does it bother me that they mass-produce lists for different areas and have unclaimed content or slightly unoriginal content? No. The fact is that I view buzzfeed differently than the Huffington Post, Mashable, NYT, etc. I go to buzzfeed for lighthearted, current, and sometimes absurdly silly and useless content. It doesn’t bother me that their articles are uncited and unclaimed because I don’t really treat them as a direct news source. I either go there for a laugh, or when I do read a news article (like the Miss America scandal) on buzzfeed, I look up the current event on another news source.

    Maddox talks about buzzfeed like it is the New York Times, and it is just not, so as a reader I don’t hold it to the same standards.

  2. Great post Rachel! Going along what Sydney said, my opinion of Buzzfeed as not changed at all after reading your post. Although I do not check Buzzfeed everyday, the times I do go on the website is because my friend posted a link about it on Facebook. Like Sydney has mentioned, I do use the site for the same reasons I may read CNN or the Washington Post. I honestly use the site as a place to save .gifs or screenshot funny memes. To me the site is more of a collaborative blogging site than a source for finding news. In regards to possible actions Buzzfeed can take to avoid lawsuits, I think its very manageable and simple for the authors to claim there post. Like your manager takeaway bullets say, not claiming your posts allow for the public to scrutinize your post.

  3. I really agree with Sydney, I think (and hope) that everyone knows BuzzFeed articles are not completely and 100% accurate. A great example was the one that you used about their post “25 ways that you can tell your are a Boston College Student”. There is no way that every student at BC embodies all 25 characteristics that this article describes. Buzzfeed positions itself as a comedic relief blog that pokes fun and is lightly based off of real life events. Knowing this going into the site (and this article), I don’t hold it to the same standards as news sources like the WSJ etc.

  4. I think I agree with everyone else here that there is no way I’m going to stop going on Buzzfeed! (my friends and I were actually Buzzfeed buttons for Halloween..) I watched Maddox’s video and for the most part I thought he was over exaggerating everything. I think that the primary intention of the articles on Buzzfeed are just to make people laugh or share similar experiences. When someone is posting an article about a store being “the best grocery store” it is not actually trying to prove that this is a true fact. It is merely voicing an opinion in an effort to relate to others. There is no reason to believe that they are fraudulently trying to prove that one store is better than the others. I also thought that since all of the articles are essentially “parodies” they actually do fall under “fair use.” I’m not very familiar with legal terminology though, so I could be misinterpreting that!

    I did a search to see if there had been any lawsuits filed and I came across this article that I’m sure you’ve seen as well: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnvillasenor/2013/06/22/copyright-infringement-and-photo-sharing-a-new-lawsuit-tests-the-limits-of-fair-use/
    This man did file a suit against Buzzfeed for using one of his photos. At the end of the article they say that he is unlikely to walk away with a multimillion-dollar payment from Buzzfeed, but will probably not leave empty handed either. These issues seem very complex, but it seems ridiculous to me that someone would be unable to use an average photo in a comical article for no purpose other than entertainment.

  5. Great in depth analysis. I look forward to discussing it in class.

  6. Great topic Rachel! As a Journalism Minor this “Buzzfeed-ification” gets talked about A LOT in my classes and definitely hits close to home as I watch my dreams of being a long-form journalist slowly die with each passing GIF. The main question that gets thrown around in my classes is “can we even call them articles?” Most of my professors have a strong presence in the world of professional journalism, and they balk at even referring to Buzzfeed articles as anything other than “listicals.” I thought this was a little overblown until one of my professors showed me this Tumblr, Buzzfeed Minus the GIFS:

    http://buzzfeedminusgifs.tumblr.com/

    It really shows you how little content there is in an average Buzzfeed “article.” When there is so little text to the article, and the GIFs or images are the main way of conveying what the writer won’t say with words, I think the Copyright laws become a bigger deal. Why should someone at Buzzfeed get credit for someone else’s work when they’re basically just captioning a photo? Maddox used some trivial examples, but there are people, Jenna Maury for one, who make their livings solely by producing entertainment content and photos. When that content, which is vital in attracting consumers and advertisers to Buzzfeed’s site, is reused by Buzzfeed without any payment changing hands, it isn’t fair to the original content creator.

    While they may serve their purpose as a fun and time-consuming procrastination method, I completely understand why Maddox and other people who make a living in the field of journalism are so against the site as a whole.

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